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FAA finalizes Additional Pilot Program

Enhanced safety the goal for experimental aircraft testing

Builder pilots who are ready to flight test an experimental amateur-built or experimental light sport aircraft constructed from a commercially produced kit can now use a qualified additional pilot under new guidelines released by the FAA.

The FAA’s Additional Pilot Program for Phase 1 Flight Test permits a builder/owner to use a qualified additional pilot during Phase 1 operations, when "the aircraft undergoes flight testing to ensure the proper operations of aircraft systems and to develop the aircraft’s flight envelope."

The program, which is optional, is a measure to mitigate the risks associated with accidents that have occurred on Phase 1 flights, in which operating limitations have limited the number on board to required crewmembers, usually one pilot. After completion, the aircraft enters Phase 2, "where it will normally reside for the remainder of its operational life," explains the program’s newly issued advisory circular.

The program provides guidelines for establishing minimum qualifications of the additional pilot, applying one set of qualifications during the aircraft’s initial tests and when the builder/pilot is performing specified flight-test maneuvers, and a less stringent set of qualifications (designating the additional pilot as an observer pilot) for subsequent flights.

Another requirement of the program is for the aircraft that is to be flight tested  to be on an FAA list of amateur-built aircraft kits; have full-functioning dual controls; have an engine recommended, supported, or provided by the kit manufacturer; and have preflight testing of systems complete.

With the program, the FAA addressed a National Transportation Safety Board safety recommendation from 2012 that urged the agency revise its orders and guidance "to clarify those circumstances in which a second qualified pilot could be authorized to assist" in flight testing experimental amateur-built and experimental light sport aircraft..

"Today’s reality of the ever-increasing complexity and capability of the modern kit aircraft is that Phase I flight testing tests not only the capability of the aircraft, but also the pilot," notes the advisory circular.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.

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